Bo was our golden lab who loved to swim in our pool. He lived for his exercise, and the pool was his domain. One day, my son was learning new strokes and tried the dead man’s float. Bo decided his boy was in imminent danger and jumped into the pool to rescue him. Instinctively, he pushed my son’s head up and held onto him with his paws in an effort to save his life. My poor son choked and sputtered as he tried to keep Bo away and ended up with water in his lungs and a chest full of scratches.
I praised Bo as he shook water all over me in his zealousness to get my opinion of the event. I knew that he’d accomplished more harm than good, but I could relate, because I know I’ve often done the same thing in my interactions with others.
I was talking with someone the other day about their relationship with their teenager and offered my advice. After forty-some years of parenting, grand-parenting, and teaching teenagers, my wisdom was really quite simple: “Don’t take things personally.”
It’s hard not to react with annoyance, anger, or sensitivity when you feel like you are being rebuffed. It’s hard not to take unkind words or actions personally, not to think of all the times when there were other things you wanted to do, but you stopped and listened and attended to your kids’ needs.
It’s hard to stand on the edge of the proverbial pool and watch and pray, knowing you have said all that needs to be said and done what you could. Now is the time to just step back a bit and let them try. Let them make the clumsy dive. Let them try the new strokes. Let them imitate their friends. But don’t jump into the pool like Bo and try to rescue them prematurely. Just watch and wait in case they call for help. And pray. Because in the end, prayer and unconditional love are really what will make a difference.
If they eventually call out to you, don’t berate them for all the times they didn’t. If they knock on your door, don’t tell them you’re too busy. Be the anchor. Be the rock. Be the stable place in the unstable world and let them know that things will be all right. Then treasure that moment with your arms around them again, and give them faith to jump back in the pool.
Joyce Suttin is a retired teacher and writer and lives in San Antonio, USA.